The CIPD’s “professional standards” underpin entry-level qualifications for HR, and have been a familiar foundation for tens of thousands of people embarking on their career.
But the role of HR practitioners is changing so fast that the institute has decided, rather than just update the existing standards, a radical re-visioning is necessary to equip the profession for the challenges ahead.
Dramatic confirmation of the changing business environment came out of market research commissioned by the CIPD last year. In one of the most comprehensive surveys of the HR community ever undertaken, 4,500 people answered detailed questions about their jobs, their professional needs and aspirations. The results show:
- Increasing numbers of HR people are going beyond their traditional role, and are now required to understand what drives business performance and to bring into focus the employee capabilities their organisations will need in future.
- While 50 per cent see themselves as HR generalists, 50 per cent see themselves more as specialists, for example in reward, learning and development or employee relations, but also in roles, such as that of business partner. They want to go narrower and deeper in their basic and subsequent training.
- 30 per cent have an international dimension to their job. This is only one way in which the organisations they work in are becoming more complex. HR professionals need a more strategic map of the function in order to serve their organisations – and plan their careers – better.
- 29 per cent are studying. This includes recent entrants studying to become CIPD-qualified, but also people doing MBAs and other masters degree programmes, and a vast array of continuing professional development at all levels. There is strong demand for more structured learning and accreditation as people progress in their careers.
In a recent interview (People Management, 15 January), the institute’s chief executive, Jackie Orme, defined the profession’s changing orientation like this: “For me, it is best summed up as a shift from a primary focus on supporting line managers to manage their people well, to a primary focus on ensuring your organisation has the sustainable capability it needs to deliver its aims both today and in the future.”
The HR map has been informed by an extensive programme of consultation with senior HR professionals and other leaders in business, the public services and management education since Orme took over the reins at the institute a year ago. The clear message is that in order to deliver “sustainable capability”, HR practitioners need to:
- know their organisations inside out – this means, according to Orme, “truly understanding the drivers of sustainable business performance, and the barriers to achieving it”;
- know the main ways in which HR expertise can make an impact – and contribute beyond the confines of the traditional role;
- have the behavioural skills to turn knowledge into effective action.
Orme believes that the old professional standards served well enough for their time. But she wants to get away from the notion of fixed standards that are difficult to change, and the sense of one-size-fits-all. To chart where the profession is now, and to expand its capacity to meet future challenges, the CIPD has, in effect, started again with a clean sheet.
The map is now going through some strenuous road-testing in a wide range of environments, including Shell, Tesco and the Cabinet Office. The institute is also discussing with its partners in education – which provide so many of the CIPD’s qualifications – how the map will be embedded in programmes from autumn next year.
Initial reaction from the field is that this is a comprehensive picture of what HR excellence looks like; that it is easy to understand, practical and highly relevant to the challenges that more and more HR professionals will face in the workplace.
In this feature, as well as surveying the map as a whole, we also drill down to give detailed examples of its component elements – the 10 different HR specialisms (dubbed “professional areas”), four different levels of responsibility (the “bands”) and eight key skills-in-action (the “behaviours”).
It’s already clear that the map represents a complete overhaul of HR’s foundations and a dramatic raising of the bar in HR’s ambitions.
Road-testing the new map
The CIPD enlisted the help of senior HR professionals to test the new approach in practice. Below: how it measured up in three very demanding business environments – at Shell, Tesco and the Cabinet Office
Shell takes ‘holistic view’ of the HR profession
Rick Brown is an ebullient, straight-talking Scot who, during 34 years in HR with Shell, has worked around the world and in most specialist areas of people management and development. In his current role, as vice-president for HR functional excellence, he manages the talent and skills pool for Shell globally.
“About five years ago, we began to look for a framework that would enable us to take a more holistic view of the HR profession in Shell,” Brown says. “We needed to have a better way of identifying what skills and behaviours are required in HR across our global operations, at every level, not just now but also so that we could plan for the future.
“There were very few companies anywhere thinking in these terms,” he says. “As for the CIPD, back then the focus in its professional standards seemed to be more on transactional activities, not the more strategic insights I was looking for. So we developed our own framework instead, which took a lot of time and effort.”
Earlier this year, Brown agreed to give his honest feedback on the first draft of the CIPD’s new HR profession map. He realised immediately that this represented “a total change of direction”. Brown particularly wanted to see how the map would pinpoint what it is that makes the best practitioners so effective. “For me, they have to understand what drives the business, and also to have the confidence and courage to make things happen. That’s how you add value,” he says.
It’s a challenge Shell has met in its own HR professional framework by defining three levels of responsibility – which cover all of its 1,800 graduate HR practitioners worldwide, from entry-level to global vice-president – and then providing appropriate skills training. This includes “HR strategy programmes” at middle and senior level, delivered by top business schools including Cornell, Insead and IMD.
Also included is a “coaching for HR” programme at each of the three levels. “One of the questions we wanted to ask,” says Brown, “is what to do when you’re possibly the most junior person in a management team and you need to challenge your boss because maybe he or she has too short-term a view and is storing up problems for the future.”
Brown says that the way key behaviours are defined in the CIPD’s map of the profession map left him thinking: “the people who wrote this know what they’re talking about”.
The institute, he says, “has taken on an almost impossible job, and I think it has succeeded” – because the profession map includes the skills and behaviours needed by HR people whether they are in an entry-level job in an SME, or working at the top level of a global business. And the map is equally applicable to the public sector.
“If we hadn’t done all this work for ourselves at Shell,” concludes Brown, “I’d have no hesitation in putting all our HR professionals into this new professional development framework.”
Spelling out behaviours required at Tesco
Another of the UK’s largest and most successful companies, Tesco, also had past reservations about the CIPD’s professional standards that led it to develop its own professional framework. According to Therese Proctor, Tesco’s HR director for retailing services, “we needed this framework because the business was growing and diversifying so fast and we had to have some glue to hold it all together, and it was particularly important to be consistent in the way we developed our people, HR professionals included.”
The problem with the CIPD standards at that time, she says, “is that they weren’t always simple enough to apply in the workplace.” She admits she had mixed feelings when asked by the institute to give some straight feedback on the first draft of the new HR profession map. “I thought: there’s bound to be stuff in here I don’t like,” she says. “But it didn’t turn out that way at all.”
What has made the big difference for Proctor is the prominent place given to behaviours, and to the transitions between different levels of responsibility. “People always ask, when they’re talking about the next stage of their career: ‘What exactly is it that I need to do?’ So spelling out the behaviours required at the next level is absolutely key,” she says.
Tesco has its own well-developed professional structure with personnel staff in stores, distribution and the office. The CIPD’s “professional areas” are equivalent to Tesco’s “operating skills”, its “behaviours” to Tesco’s “leadership skills”, and its “bands” correspond to Tesco’s “work levels”.
Proctor is excited about being able to benchmark with the CIPD’s new map. That’s partly because it could open up opportunities for learning and development activities within HR at Tesco to be accredited, so that individual practitioners could have their progress formally recognised. But she also looks forward to benchmarking professional practice. “I’m sure I’ll turn to this map to help me think about particular issues,” Proctor says. “I’ll want to know, what does the CIPD say about this? How close to our operating model is it?”
She is very aware that most organisations don’t have the resources to build their own HR professional structure as Tesco did, and believes many could benefit enormously from access to something like the CIPD’s map of the profession. But, she says, for practitioners to want to use the map, it has to be “the complete tool, yet simple enough to be used. It has to be a trusted friend.” The new map, she believes, passes that test. “If this had been there before we developed our own operating skills framework, I’d have used it instead.”
A career framework for civil service HR
At the Cabinet Office, Jacquie Heany heads up the “HR profession team” that for the past two years has been developing a framework for HR careers within the civil service. Her remit: to develop career pathways for more than 8,000 HR practitioners across 23 main government departments and 66 semi-autonomous agencies.
Heany’s team has produced its own civil service HR Career Roadmap. There are five main career “lines” on the map, leading to HR director posts for particular departments, and for specific functions such as strategy and planning; learning and development; HR policy; and HR services.
Each of these five lines of development goes through four levels on the map, which are defined as entry level, developing practitioner, senior practitioner (by which point, says Heany, “people have typically committed themselves to a career in HR”) and HR leader. And people are encouraged to switch between career lines, for example moving from HR policy officer (level 2, with a wide remit across Whitehall) to HR business partner (level 3 in a particular government department).
Competencies have already been defined at leadership level in the different HR career lines. This was given priority as part of the wider Professional Skills for Government programme, which has been establishing core competencies for civil servants at leadership level throughout government.
The challenge now facing Heany’s team is to develop HR standards for the other levels in a consistent way across Whitehall. She is optimistic that they will be able to base this work on the new HR profession map. “Had the CIPD not been doing this work, we would have had to develop our own detailed framework,” says Heany. “The institute’s existing professional standards didn’t really work for us, but these are more appropriate.
“It is important that we this get right,” she says. “The map needs to be detailed enough to be useful, but not so detailed as to make it difficult to apply in each of the departments.”
She is encouraged so far, saying the CIPD’s professional areas map quite well against the civil service’s own functional needs, and the four bands of responsibility tie in with the civil service’s four levels. “What’s important is that they aren’t concentrating on academic achievements, but on a set of activities and behaviours at each level to underpin your expectations of people.”
Last month, Heany’s team brought together HR representatives from a range of departments including the Home Office and the MoD, to examine how the new profession map could help to define the behavioural competencies required in the civil service’s HR business partner role. They will now extend this approach to look at other roles, and to involve people from the government agencies as well. “Civil service HR is so diverse that practitioners here have the opportunity to work in every area of HR practice,” she says.
“We’re also looking at the possibility – working in partnership with the National School for Government – of being accredited as an employer to provide CIPD-recognised training,” Heany adds. “All of this means not only delivering more effective HR across government, but also attracting the best people into civil service HR as a career. This is all about strengthening our professional reputation and making this a great place to work as an HR professional.”
Exploring the HR landscape
The new map charts the profession from three main perspectives: functional specialisms, levels of competence, and key behaviours. The full map would fill this magazine, but here are some snapshots of how each perspective will work
Reflecting the growing maturity of the profession, HR now has more areas of specialism, and the depth of expertise available in them is greater than ever before. So the first challenge for the map-makers has been to chart these specialisms. The institute’s working titles are:
The 10 professional areas
1 Strategy, insights and solutions
2 Leading and managing the function
3 Organisation design
4 Resourcing and talent planning
5 Organisation development
6 Learning and talent development
7 Performance and reward
8 Employee relations
9 Employee engagement
10 Information and service delivery
Even the order of listing the specialist areas is significant. The list starts with “strategy, insights and solutions” because this is about HR’s awareness of the business context and the wider organisational environment – from which, of course, everything else needs to flow.
“Leading and managing the function” comes next because, having understood the business challenge, you then need to design an HR function to meet those needs and priorities. The other specialist areas all have perhaps more familiar labels. But – you might be wondering – aren’t the first two specialist areas the preserve of more senior HR managers? The answer is no, because for each specialist area, four bands of competence are identified, moving from what might reasonably be expected of an entry-level person (band 4) through to what is essential expertise for a board-level HR director (band 1).
So, to take the specialist area of “strategy, insights and solutions” as an example: here, HR practitioners in their first job are required to develop their understanding of the organisation’s goals and how HR activity contributes to delivering them. They are expected to feed ideas and observations to senior colleagues, to look for ways to support line managers more effectively, and to evaluate the impact of their work. Thus, entry-level practitioners are gaining experience of the approaches they will need as a senior (band 1) professional, while making a contribution to “big picture” thinking in their own right at junior level too.
One specialist area currently attracting a lot of attention is employee engagement. Under this map heading appear many themes, one of which is HR’s role in relation to the values and behaviours of the organisation. This provides a good example of how activities change at different levels of responsibility. In this case:
Example of an activity at four levels of competence
Band 1 (HR director) Leads processes to identify, articulate and reinforce the organisation’s core values and behavioural expectations, and influences leadership at all levels to behave in a manner that is consistent with them
Band 2 Develops ongoing communications and engagement plans to ensure that employees and other stakeholders understand and respect the organisation’s values and behavioural expectations, and act in accordance with them
Band 3 Ensures that the values and behavioural expectations permeate through the organisation’s processes, policies, intranet and other literature
Band 4 (Entry-level) Advises staff and managers about the organisation’s values and behavioural expectations
The above is just one of many strands in the specialist area of employee engagement, and this rich level of detail is apparent in the other nine specialist areas too. Each is described in three different ways:
- What you need to know (knowledge)
- What you need to do (activities)
- How you need to do it (behaviours).
This last dimension, “How you need to do it”, sets out the behaviours that HR practitioners need in order to be effective. They are:
The eight behaviours
2 Decisive thinker
3 Skilled influencer
4 Driven to deliver
6 Personally credible
7 Courage to challenge
8 Role model
Let’s look at a topical example. Some believe that one reason behind the collapse of the banks was an insufficient degree of “courage to challenge” in their boardrooms, by HR professionals among others. So what does the CIPD’s profession map say about this important behaviour?
It says, in broad terms first, that someone exhibiting this behaviour “shows courage and confidence to speak up and challenge others, even when confronted with resistance or unfamiliar circumstances”. The behaviour is then broken down into various components, which are called upon in different ways depending on the seniority of the role – or in map terms, the band. Thus, one component of “courage to challenge” develops in this way:
Example of a behaviour at four levels of competence
Band 1 (HR director) Acts as a “mirror” to colleagues, challenging actions which are inconsistent with espoused values, beliefs and promises
Band 2 Holds own position determinedly and with courage when it is the right thing to do, even when those in power have divergent views
Band 3 Observes, listens, questions and challenges to ensure a full discussion
Band 4 (Entry-level) Uses questions to explore and understand others’ viewpoints, taking these into account
By bringing the 10 professional areas, the eight behaviours and the four bands of competence together, the CIPD has created the most comprehensive picture yet of the HR profession. And that means, potentially, a daunting amount of detail.
As an adventure in map-making, it’s a bit like Google’s achievement of combining powerful satellite images with aerial and street-level photography to give us different perspectives on the same location. At first, there’s almost too much information to take in. So what can we do with this new capability?
“The real power of the map comes when it’s used as a diagnostic tool,” says Sarah Miles, who has been the CIPD’s interim director of professional development for the past six months. She started her HR career at Marks and Spencer and then moved to the Pearson Group, before working for 12 years in senior roles at Pepsi.
“Obviously the map will be an enormous help to HR people planning their career,” she says, “because it sets out clearly what expertise and behavioural skills they will need, from any starting point, to get to the next stage.” She adds: “But it’s also potentially a very powerful tool for doing a capability review of the HR function in an organisation.
For example, if the marketplace says you need to be great at employee relations, the map will help you to pinpoint exactly what activities and behaviours you need in the HR team, and to spot any gaps.
“It can also be applied at a wider organisational level to stimulate a deeper and richer conversation about strategic priorities,” adds Miles. “If you’re in a start-up situation, or struggling to release innovation, or a mature company trying to recreate itself, whatever the business situation…. the HR map will then help to identify the capabilities you will need in your unique situation.”
People Management will be reporting regularly on the process of rolling out the HR profession map, which the CIPD anticipates will be fully implemented by autumn 2010.